There's always something happening in the world of audio technology. Every month we see a press release about a new invention that's shaking up the world of sound.
Some things aren't so great - not everything needs a bluetooth connection – but others have the potential to provide really awesome experiences.
For marketers, retailers and event organisers, there's a ton of inspiration out there. Here's the lowdown on the latest sound tech and trends you can take advantage of to wow your customers and visitors.
The great advances of recent tech trends have made for great opportunities.
The best way to understand the scope of these changes isn't to look outside – instead, we can look in the home, at the consumer tech market.
Firstly, as we've seen in the last five years or so, the use of interactive voice speakers has exploded. Globally, there were 186 million 'smart speakers' shipped in 2021. That's a huge amount of speakers that you can talk back to, and it's predicted to grow past 200 million annually in the coming years. People are getting more comfortable talking to an AI character or assistant – something that paves the way for interactive ads, both at home and in public spaces. (And brands willing to create their own voice profiles for customers to talk to will really stand out from the crowd.)
Speakers are making their way into ever more locations through the home. IKEA and Sonos collaborated to make a stealthy speaker within a picture frame that blends in to your home decor. You can get a 'smart bedside table' with a speaker in the drawer compartment, letting you play music and receive calls through your furniture.
There's a less stealthy but equally adventurous option in this transparent speaker, a fashionable design-first choice for playing sound through your home.
And you can even get smart speakers installed in your showerhead (but with the shower being one of the last places you can be alone with your thoughts, is it really necessary?).
Turning our attention to the outside world, there's plenty more ways to shape the sound you hear when you're out and about. These solar powered headphones make sure that a low battery won't be a reason to unplug from music and shows. There's also a growing range of earphones personalised to the shape and sensitivity of your ears, which mean you can hear music and speech almost perfectly.
For dealing with the world outside, there's been some massive improvements in hearing aid technology recently, with some companies bringing an all-ages creative startup mentality to a market traditionally thought of as a boring necessity for senior citizens.
And finally, if you want to hear less of the world around you, Flare Audio's 'Calmer' earplugs filter out stressful and irritating everyday sounds, helping you deal with sensory overwhelm while still letting the important sounds through.
Consumers are ready and willing to hear things in different ways through different channels.
As a retailer, exhibitor, or marketer this should light up some ideas for you.
So what's next? Here are three of the most interesting audio tech trends we think you can take advantage of.
Every time a customer interacts with your product or website, there's an opportunity to make it personal, unique and delightful. The interface that your customers interact with is a great platform for building connection through sound.
This includes the UX (user interface), where you can play branded sounds when user click buttons or complete actions. It also includes any instructional videos you have in your support section (the videos in Webflow's user support section are a great example of consistent multimedia branding). And it all ties in with microcopy – the snippets of text throughout a product (digital or physical), website or store that help users complete tasks.
A few broad trends are converging to make this possible; the digital transformation of traditional companies following the pandemic, the explosion of consumer spending in ecommerce, and the growth of audio devices in each person's home.
Using the right sounds as part of your customer experience is a crucial part of your sonic branding strategy. One company that does a great job of this is Apple – if you've ever used Apple Pay to make a physical purchase with your device, you'll recognise the 'ba-ding' it makes as a unique and satisfying sound.
This has the potential to transform the live events industry. If you're running events and trade shows, you can broaden the reach and impact of your gathering by using tech to deliver it in multiple languages simultaneously.
Previously, with a human translator, you might have been able to have things translated into a single other language on the fly. This is an expensive and inefficient method that you'll only see at the biggest events. But tech is changing that.
Interprify is a software platform that plugs into live conference streams. It offers either an on-demand professional human translator as a second audio stream for attendees to tune in to, or a live transcription service for multilingual captions. It connects to other conferencing platforms like Hopin and Zoom to make it as easy as possible to use.
Imagine what this technology will look like in five years. We'll probably see synthesised voice software replacing the need for human translators. Any streamed media will have a 'language select' button offering any language you can dream of.
For anyone looking to connect with new cultures and demographics, these tools will be invaluable. Many museums already offer audio tours with multiple language support; imagine if every retail store or outdoor ad could be understood in any language.
Creativity in public spaces benefits hugely from audio innovation; it provides plenty of exciting opportunities for ads and branding.
The Sound of Porsche was a pop-up shop located in the Meatpacking District of New York City. It was arranged in the form of a record store, where customers and loyal fans of the brand could explore its history and future through various interactive sound kiosks.
One section, the 'Sound Lab Virtual Drive Experience', displayed holograms of a Porsche 911 Carerra 4S Coupe along with selectable soundtracks mapped to the visuals: an urban drive, mountain pass adventure, or racetrack. Another section gave visitors the chance to comb through record playlists curated to represent the brand (with video content starring Porsche racing drivers), with the final part letting fans design their own visuals to show what the 'Sound of Porsche' means to them.
We've already mentioned how sound can play a big part of the customer experience in car dealerships, and this is a natural extension of that. It's a great example of a multi-sensory branding experience and goes much further than simply showcasing cars for purchase.
Using customised soundtracks and original multimedia creation is an awesome way to engage people in a deeper way than conventional ads might do.
It's all part of a multi-sensory advertising trend.
Playable posters show a different angle on this, as The Sound of Taste demonstrates. A partnership between Print Tech collective and ad agency Grey London, these posters were embedded with touch-sensitive inks and a bluetooth connection. When people touch different parts of the design, it played different piano chords from their mobile device, letting them play beautiful music. Each part of the poster represented a different 'taste' as it was promoting the client Schwartz's flavoured cooking ingredients.
Recent advancements in speaker tech have made it possible to take this idea even further. Instead of relying on the users' mobile device, you could embed thin speakers underneath the poster, or place directional speakers over them for a unique experience customised to the individual.
Our own directional speakers were used by Samsung in their campaign placed in Paris' Gare de Lyon train station. A giant 'sound shower' delivered sound from digital signage on the ceiling of the commuter hall directly to people passing through the optimal viewing angle. This made for an engaging, interesting and attention-grabbing advertising display.
Directional speakers can be used in many different contexts, but their uniqueness is still a novelty for lots of people. They attract attention by being a distinctive new way of experiencing things, but keep that attention by delivering your branded audio content at the perfect time, to the perfect place.
If you're thinking of promoting your brand in a public space, retail store or gallery, the possibilities really are endless. Silence won't do the job, though, so providing a creative sound experience is super important to make it work. If you'd like to find out more, get in touch!